13:36, March 01 257 0 theguardian.com

2020-03-01 13:36:04
Subpostmaster says Post Office demands to repay 'stolen' £65,000 led to stroke

A subpostmaster has said he suffered a stroke after being asked to pay the Post Office £65,000 over a computer glitch that showed thousands of pounds missing from his branch accounts.

Pete Murray, 53, from Wirral, claimed he was nearly bankrupted when he was forced to hand over £30,000 and told he owed£35,000 more to cover discrepancies at the branch in Great Sutton between 2014 and 2019.

Murray, who said he also suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of the accusation, first encountered issues when he took over Hope Farm Road post office in October 2014 and began noticing large deficits in the branch’s accounts.

Subpostmasters are self-employed workers who run services at Post Office branches. The company agreed after two high court trials last year to pay £58m to settle claims by more than 550 of them. Some had been accused of theft and false accounting, but claimed a defect in the Post Office’s Horizon IT computer system had caused the discrepancies.

Murray, who also runs Grove Road post office in Wallasey, frequently called the company’s helpline for assistance, but said he was told he would be liable for any discrepancies and that he should not trust his staff.

Speaking to the Liverpool Echo on Sunday, Murray said he had been suspended from work without pay for four months in November 2018, but was still expected to keep up monthly payments of £1,000 to the Post Office. He had a stroke the following month.

He said he had taken out £10,000 in bank loans and borrowed money from friends to meet the repayments. “Whenever I reported problems to the Post Office and my contract manager, they would refuse to help,” he told the Echo.

“Some days there would be £2,000 missing from the system, then £5,000, then another day it would be £8,000. This would just happen completely randomly.

“They tell you you’re the only one going through this and that it’s not happened to anyone else. I couldn’t believe it and I thought at the time something was very wrong because I’m very good with maths and computers.”

Murray said he had since received some compensation and was working out a settlement with the Post Office, but described the ordeal as the worst period of his life. The stress had nearly destroyed his marriage and made him feel alienated from his children, he said. “The Post Office bullied me for years and drove me to the point of financial ruin.”

A Post Office spokesperson told the Echo: “We’re making extensive improvements throughout the Post Office to ensure we work together with postmasters in genuine commercial partnership.

“We’ve put in place personalised new support for every postmaster, increased training and a new branch support centre with dedicated case handlers for more complex queries which cannot be immediately resolved.

“There is of course much more work to be done but we’re putting our postmaster and our customers at the centre of everything we do.”

A number of subpostmasters the Post Office had accused of theft before the 2019 Hhigh court ruling were convicted and sent to prison. The criminal cases review commission is looking into whether a number of the convictions were miscarriages of justice.